Unfortunately, most people are uninformed when it comes to wildlife history but that has never stopped anyone from making claims about wildlife that is incomplete, false, and in some cases dishonestly misleading. Deer in Maine have a complicated history and making broad statements about habits, distribution, and density is too often crafted for political gains and idealism – something I’ve come to call Romance Biology. Please consider the following information taken from many historical documents. Over the years, more so in recent years, I have often heard statements made about deer in Maine – statements often voiced to prop up romantic notions about Nature’s Balance. A most recent claim made in support of large predator protection, stated that deer never existed in northern Maine until after man cut the forests all down (there were no dates given as to when this cutting took place).
I decided to have a look and see if there was any truth to that statement. Several history books exist that can give a reader a pretty good idea about how things were “back in the day.” Contrary to most popular belief, the United States was not teeming with wildlife when the settlers arrived – at least not in any broad fashion. An examination of log books and diaries of trappers, mountain men, and explorers, dating from the 1500s, along with those of Jedediah Smith, Peter Skeen Ogden, Milton Sublette, John Work, Joe Meek, John Fremont, Charles Preuss, Captain J.B. Simpson, and Boward Egan, with close examination of the Journals of Lewis and Clark, tells a different story. In Maine we can read the likes of Joshua Rich and one of my favorite wildlife history books is that of Willliam B. Krohn and Christopher L. Hoving – Early Maine Wildlife.
With a few exceptions, most of the United States most closely resembled what are known as “predator pits” – the result of what Dr. Charles Kay, an ecologist at Utah State University, calls Predator Mediated Competition (PMC). PMC is where more than one prey species exists, allowing large predators to virtually wipe out a prey species (a favorite) while sustaining on alternate prey. This scarcity of prey species, where large predators dominate the landscape, contributes to the explanation as to why there may not have been, historically, deer in northern Maine at different times.
Krohn and Hoving begin in their book, Early Maine Wildlife, by stating, “…Maine was once the northern limit of the white-tail’s range. In the early 1800s, deer occurred in only southern-most Maine and along the coast, and were absent from the interior forests.” Unfortunately, the authors do not offer any explanation for this.
Throughout Maine’s early history, the state had whitetail deer, moose, and caribou. These three species were regularly harassed by wolves, bear, mountain lions, bobcats, and Canada lynx. These large predators ruled the “interior forests,” which at that time included almost all of northern Maine. If there were no deer in northern Maine pre-Columbian, it was because large predators ruled, in which case they controlled the abundance and scarcity of prey species such as deer, moose, and caribou. With alternate prey species readily available, these large predators could easily wipe out any, or all, of these three species.
Early Maine Wildlife documents how deer dominated habitat along the coast and especially on the many islands that dot the coastline. Deer would swim the distances to the islands to escape the threats from large predators. Wolves and mountain lions would not make the swim to the islands. By the early 1800s, things were changing in Maine and thus what happened to the deer and other wildlife, including predators, is quite interesting.

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